Sunday, September 6, 2015

Pruning and Growing

This won't be an easy blog post for me to write.  It is hard to write about your weaknesses, your worries, and your mistakes.  In general, I approach my life in a happy and positive way.  At a time I was considering a new job and I confessed to a coworker/friend that I feared leaving a work environment that was so happy and fun. My coworker told me that I will bring happy and fun to any work environment.  What a sweet compliment and one I hold in my back pocket for times like these.  These are the times that it is harder to be fun and optimistic.  I call these times, pruning.

Everyone who takes care of plants knows that pruning is a necessary part for allowing growth.  It is interesting that I choose this analogy since I can successful kill any plant in less than one week.  I can't say that I have ever pruned a plant because that would mean it lived long enough to require it.  Alas, the analogy still stands.  The problem with pruning is that it hurts.  It cuts deeply and it often removes a part of us with it.  Many times those parts are dead and dying but often, it is a branch filled with life that just gets caught in the process.

We all have moments of pruning.  A harsh word from a friend or family member, that hits close to home because you know that it was deserved.  A suggestion for improvement on a job performance evaluation.  A customer complaint about the way you handled a situation.  Or even your own personal reflection on your day - mine is often reflecting on how I could have been a better mama. 

I seem to have landed in a season of pruning.  I liken it to a fall clean up that you might do to your yard.  You know, the one that results in 3-5 yard waste bags at the end of your driveway.  The problem with that - is at the end of the day, the landscaping looks bare, and you start to wonder if it will ever grow again come Spring time.  And there is that harsh winter to contend with in the meantime.  This season of pruning is not a lot different than the moments of pruning - except that the moments keep coming and it covers so many different aspects of life. 

So here I sit - feeling cut and shorn.  Feeling the inadequacy that comes with trying to balance work and family life.  Knowing that I am never enough - not at home and not at work.  Hearing the compliments that never come without qualifiers - "You are doing such a great job, for someone with four kids at home" or "You were such a huge help, for a mom who works full time".  Before we jump to conclusions that these people saying these things to me are awful - they aren't!  These are wonderful people who intend to build me up and let me know they appreciate the exact struggle I am feeling above.  The problem is - it lets me know - the struggle is real.  :)  That I haven't found the balance yet and that it may be ever elusive.  I can't say that these feelings are new to this season - but it certainly has been highlighted extensively.  Having a sick kiddo, plenty of sick time, but having to go to work anyway.  Having that sick kiddo plead with you to stay with them, having your heart break at the thought of leaving them, spending your day on the brink of tears, and summing it up with a poorly timed comment from someone you care what they think about not being where you belong.  The guilt - the all encompassing guilt.  But it goes both ways, the day the sick kiddo is home, you stay home with the kiddo, you spend the first several hours making sure that all the things you should have been doing are getting done, knowing others are doing work that people were counting on you to do, knowing there is other work that is falling behind that will keep you from picking something else up, and getting that comment that was intended to be supportive but somehow gets received in other ways, "you are where you need to be today, let us know how to support you." Even worse is the comment, "you are gone again?" - it is a fair comment but it still cuts deep.  And that is just the sick kid example - not the school project/field trip example or the "can't we just come home after school" example, etc.

This struggle for balance isn't new.  But there are rough waters - that I start to wonder if it is because I fail to find this balance.  Comments from family members about what parenting things you are not strict enough on, overheard conversations of other parents that think you are too strict on things, and, perhaps hardest of all, the struggles your kiddos are having, the heart breaks, the hard work that doesn't get the results they want; the hard lessons that come with poor choices (and having a mom that usually won't save them - but makes them find their way through).  Don't forget all the beginning of the year stuff, PTA things to volunteer for, time in the classrooms (and my children begging me to be the parent that gives spelling tests this year), and the activities that need volunteer leaders and coaches.  Before I worked full time, I was more than willing to volunteer for all of the above - but there just isn't space - and again, my kiddos are disappointed.  It leaves me wondering - am I failing my kids.  Not because I didn't volunteer - but because there is so little space.  Am I not here when they need me most?  Does my work life create a cramped enough environment that I am not able to be consistent on the things my family tells me I am doing wrong?   Do I try to exert control on our world by being too strict on some of the kid's exposures to things?  And the worst question of all - the question that haunts me on a regular basis, will I regret having spent this time of my life working instead of being home with my kids?  (Thank goodness I have my husband who reassures me and compliments my parenting.  Sometimes I wonder if he can read my mind).

In the work world, there is always plenty of opportunity for pruning.  I mean, come on - I teach - which means student evaluations - which could prune a forest into a group of saplings.  Fortunately, my evaluations are usually quite positive.  However, when a negative comment comes in, I somehow forget all the good comments. But student evaluations are not the problem for this round of pruning.  In the last few months, I have had to face mistakes that I have made, teach a class that is new and a bit uncomfortable (and I am just not sure I am doing it justice - no matter the extensive work I am putting into it), missed opportunities to build up my fellow co-workers, expressed some opinions I would like to take back and a had slew of dismissive, occasionally embarrassing, and probably unintentional comments made about me.  Each day, I put on my brave face - ready to tackle the day's challenges - and each day finds its way to be its own pruning comments or moments.  The first questions these things raise are always, am I good at my job?  Am I working hard and being the best that I can be?  But closely following comes the question, is the sacrifice that I make at home so that I can be here worth it?  (Thank goodness I work with amazing and fun people to keep me going!)

And then there is the internal struggle - always my greatest battle.  I am grateful for insight into my weaknesses and downfalls - as I would be even more insufferable if I wasn't. ;)  But it does make me painfully aware during pruning time the things that are just going to have to change.  It creates almost an obsession to find the "fix" to the bumps in the road.  Over time, my health habits have begun to change - my daily exercise has slowly become more of  an after thought and therefore less consistent.  Nothing makes me crave chocolate like stress, so my diet isn't what it should be.  And I spend my nights analyzing what I could have done better, what I should do differently, what words would have been better chosen, and make promises to exercise and eat well too.  The leads to lack of sleep. Then the next day comes - the struggles remain - and my list of broken promises to myself grows. 

Now - to be clear - I am not complaining.  Struggling, yes. . . but not complaining.  I appreciate that this season is necessary and clearly something I must need.  I believe that God has his hand in this shaping.  I also realize it is temporary and will hopefully result in a better version of me.  I know so many that are struggling with mountains compared to this mole hill.  But I find myself wondering - with so much going on at once - is God trying to prepare my heart for a big change.  Is He putting up some sort of neon flashing sign that I am just too dense to see or read?  Or is He just trying desperately to smooth out a few of my rough edges?  Or maybe, just maybe - if looking inward is this unpleasant, looking outward into the world - seeing the things that are bigger than me - and putting some energy into volunteering there, to giving back - maybe that is the answer.  Whatever the answer may be - I look forward to getting some growth out of these hurts.  And hopefully - when my spring does come - and the harsh winter ends - my kids, my hubby, my work, and I will reap the benefits of this time of molding.  That they will get to appreciate the best me that I can be and hopefully - that me will be enough for everyone.

But for now - I am emotional.  I am frustrated.  I am hurt.  I am exhausted.

**I hesitate to share this post because I am not looking for validation or positive strokes.  I share this because I know this is a common struggle for working moms.  I know there are others that work through these issues.  Because sometimes - knowing you are not alone is enough.**